Tag Archives: memory

Encore! Come to Your Senses and Unlock Childhood Memories.

How much do we remember from our childhood? This is one of the questions examined recently by Canadian research scientists.

I’ve just finished reading Blanks for the Memories  which highlights aspects of the research originally published in the journal Child Development…Read more.

The Best of Monday’s Link Roundup.

Many of you know that every Monday for the past year I’ve pulled together 7 Internet articles that I’ve found noteworthy and presented them here. That’s over 300 items!

I’ve combed through the Monday’s Link archive and selected 7 posts that are particularly outstanding. If you haven’t had a chance to read these, make yourself a cup of coffee or tea, settle back, and enjoy some stimulating reading.

  • A Tribute to KODACHROME: A Photography Icon. “They say all good things in life come to an end …It was a difficult decision, given its rich history …We at Kodak want to celebrate with you the rich history of this storied film. Feel free to share with us your fondest memories of Kodachrome.”
  • The Future of the Book. “Meet Nelson, Coupland, and Alice — the faces of tomorrow’s book. Watch global design and innovation consultancy IDEO’s vision for the future of the book. What new experiences might be created by linking diverse discussions, what additional value could be created by connected readers to one another, and what innovative ways we might use to tell our favorite stories and build community around books?”
  • Ira Glass on the Art of Storytelling. “Since 1995, Ira Glass has hosted and produced This American Life (iTunes – Feed – Web Site), the award-winning radio show that presents masterfully-crafted stories to almost 2 million listeners each week. What’s the secret sauce that goes into making a great story, particularly one primed for radio or TV? Glass spells it out in four parts.”
  • “Welcome to Pine Point”: digital narrative chases memory and loss.“What if your hometown disappeared, literally vanished from the map? How would you hold onto it? Would the community of people who had lived there continue? “Welcome to Pine Point” is a website that explores the death of a town and the people whose memories and mementos tell its story today. The site lives online under the auspices of the National Film Board of Canada and came into the world via the creative duo of Michael Simons and Paul Shoebridge (also known as The Goggles).”
  • Memory and Invention: An Essay by Mavis Gallant. “Imagination, all invention, will occur spontaneously – occur or interfere. ‘Interference’ means it is false, mistaken, untrue. Although I have kept a journal for years, I never look anything up. A diary is not a dictionary or the record of a meeting. Sometimes a sharp, insistent image caught in one’s mind, perhaps of a stranger glimpsed only once, will become the living source of a whole story.”
  • Dear Photograph: A website with a window into the past. “In the past month, a summery, slightly sad website has made the trip from non-existence to international exposure. It’s called Dear Photograph, and its premise is simple: Take a picture of an old photo being carefully held up in front of the place it was originally taken, so it appears to be a window into the past.”
  • Affirmation, Etched in Vinyl. “For years I tried to construct a viable idea of my long-gone father by piecing together scraps of other people’s memories. I was only 6 when he died,…My father’s death stole many things from me, including the sound of his voice. For instance, I have tried to remember his laughter from that final night — its timbre and roll — but my mind is an erased tape. I possess the knowledge of his laughter and of Angie and Johnny’s bubbly white noise but have no memory of the sounds themselves. It’s as if I have garnered these details by reading a biography penned by a stranger.” [Thanks to Pat McNees of Writers and Editors for alerting me to this item.]

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Come to Your Senses and Unlock Childhood Memories.

Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the mountains.

                               ~Diane Ackerman

How much do we remember from our childhood? This is one of the questions examined recently by Canadian research scientists.

I’ve just finished reading Blanks for the Memories  which highlights aspects of the research originally published in the journal Child Development.

Neuroscientists believe that there are different kinds of memories, stored in many different neural circuits. “We can’t go to a particular spot in the brain to see where our third birthday party is stored,” says Dr. Hudson….

Scientists think the brain’s prefrontal cortex processes experiences, using sensory input from the eyes, ears, nose and mouth, sorts them into categories, and tags the various memory fragments with specific associations (smells of home, friends from camp, bugs, a pet, for example).

Reading this made me realize how important the senses are to unlocking childhood memories. I must admit I could do a better job of incorporating sensory questions into my interviews. To get me pointed in the right direction, I’ve written a few sample “sensory” questions below.

I tested some out on my mother and she had great fun. It turns out that a taste she strongly associates with her childhood is jelly beans. Her mother would carefully count out five each for her and her two siblings. Today this may not sound like much but during The Depression jelly beans were a real treat!

How much do you incorporate sense-related questions into your interviews? Do you have a favorite “sensory” question?


  • What do you remember most about your mother’s appearance?
  • Paint a picture for me of where you lived – the weather, terrain.


  • What sounds do you associate with your childhood? What memories do they evoke?
  • What piece of music  do you remember from your childhood?


  • What was your favorite food when you were a child?
  • What tastes do you associate with your childhood?


  • What do you recall were things you loved to touch as a child?
  • What do you remember liking to run your hands over or through?


  • What are some of the pleasant smells  you associate with your childhood? What memories do they bring back?
  • What smells from your childhood weren’t pleasant? What memories do they evoke?

Photo by h.koppdelaney

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Monday’s Link Roundup.


This week’s roundup is an eclectic mix from cookie recipes to e-mailed last messages. Enjoy!

  • Memories next to cookie recipes make great stories: “I won’t be able to leave much to my kids after I’m gone someday, but something tells me they won’t mind getting my cookbooks – not for the recipes but for the hand-scribbled notes written inside – of first laughs, school lunchboxes and stitches from playground falls.”
  • Home is where the history is: “When Lt Ali Darwish built a palm hut outside his house six years ago, he intended nothing more than to create a simple space in which he could commemorate his family’s history…Today, what is now known as the Bin Darwish Heritage Village includes a replica of a kitchen, a traditional stone flour grinder, two types of well, a restored 1958 Land Rover, three six-metre models of traditional boats, an elevated sleeping platform and two cannon donated by the RAK Police.” Thanks to Larry Lehmer at Passing It On for alerting me to this article.
  • Last Messages Club: “…sends your personal thoughts and essential data by email to your friends and loved ones after you die.”

Photo by fdecomit

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The Life Story Quote of The Week


God gave us memories so that we might have roses in December.

James M. Barrie

James M. Barrie, (1860-1937) was a Scottish novelist and dramatist, best remembered for creating Peter Pan. I think this is a beautiful quote, at once simple and profound. I’m reminded of the truth of his words when I work with people who are near death. It is the joyous memory that can lift people out of their suffering even if for only a moment. That’s why it’s so valuable to help people at the end of life to recount their life stories.

Photo by Luis de Bethencourt

Are Those Memories of Yours Really Accurate?

It seems that the way our brains store and recollect memories is kind of quirky. Our brains frequently convert rumors, falsities and opinions into perceived, recollected fact says Scott LaFee in an article in The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Everybody does it,” said Sam Wang, an associate professor of molecular biology and neuroscience at Princeton University. “Memory formation and retrieval isn’t like writing something down on a piece of paper. Memories drift and change, and things we may have once doubted, we no longer do.

As we recall stored facts, said Wang, our brains reprocess them, collate them with new information, re-interpret the result, then re-store them as new and “improved” memories.

What does that mean for those of us writing our own memoir? I think what we need to keep in mind is that we want to render a three dimensional portrait not fret about getting every little detail correct. What’s important is that it’s your story, your recollections, your response to the events in your life. So what, if your brother or sister saw things differently. It’s not their story.

What I aim for in producing a life story for my clients is something more than just a chronological retelling of the events in their lives. I want to know how they responded to events; how they felt; the life lessons they learned; the values and passions that have driven them; their triumphs and tragedies and their hopes and dreams.

So, don’t worry. Like me and everyone else, our past memories are most likely an amalgam of fact and fiction. What’s really important is that we start recording and preserving memories now before they’re lost forever.

Photo by dierk schaefer